The Telephone- Parshat Hayey Sarah
Once I saw a video of some children being shown an old telephone from the 1970s, complete with a rotary dial.
“What is it?” they wondered.
When they were told it was a phone and how it worked, how you dial numbers by pushing the wheel around, they said, “Wait, you mean all this phone does is call people?”
For many of is, it’s hard to imagine a time when our calendar, internet, email and a million other functions weren’t instantly available on our phones. What a miracle! But recently I noticed that whenever I take out my phone, there’s a slight pain in my stomach, because I don’t want all those functions to distract me from the reason I took out the phone in the first place.
Have you set out to do something, gotten distracted, and completely forgotten what it was you had intended to do?
In the Haftorah for this week’s reading, King David is old and lying on his deathbed. Meanwhile, his son Adonijah has taken power against King David’s will, throwing a big party and inviting all his supporters, while excluding those close to David.
The prophet Nathan and King David’s wife Bathsheba enter King David’s bed chamber and inform him about what’s going on. The king is roused and swears that his son Solomon must succeed him.
Every intention that arises within the mind and heart arises within a particular kind of situation. As time goes on, situations change; in fact, “time” and “change” are not two separate things. Like King David’s desire for Solomon to succeed his kingship, the moments of our original intentions can become old and dim, while new moments and new desires arise. Like the thousands of apps, reminders, alerts, and new emails popping up, we sometimes find ourselves thinking: “Wait, what was I doing?”
But let’s stand back for a moment, back from all the different intentions and priorities of life. Before you had relationships, before you had values, before you had goals- can you go back before any of that and ask,
“What was I doing? Why did I come into this life in the first place?”
Every intention, whether positive or negative, has its root in some thought or feeling- the desire for happiness, the desire to help the world, the desire to create or to destroy. Consciousness is like the smartphone- its functions are infinite, and the mind is infinitely complex!
But is there something simple, something far more deep than any thought or feeling?
Before you wanted anything, before you had an opinion, there was consciousness- this miracle of perception somehow awakened within your body-mind and began meeting the world as it appeared.
The world- sometimes nurturing, sometimes beautiful, sometimes loving, sometimes painful, sometimes horrific.
But whatever the form the world happens to takes in any given moment, behind it all is this simple awareness: the awakening of Reality to Itself. And this awakening is happening, right now, as the Presence that you are.
Can you remember why you came into existence?
On this deepest level, awareness comes into existence simply to be aware. And behind all the complexity of life is this simple truth- you are aware- which is to say, you are awareness.
Know yourself as this Presence- behind your thinking, behind your words, behind your actions- and you become like the air we breathe: ever-present, completely surrounding us from without and nourishing us from within, yet essentially separate from all the drama of our existence- intimate and transcendent in one.
But to do this you have to get back to basics. Like the rotary phone that only did one thing, you have to find the one thing within yourself behind all the many things. A great way to start is, become aware of the air!
Become aware of the ever-present nourishment which is your own constant breath, and you can begin to notice that your noticing is just like the air. The noticing itself is your ever-present consciousness within which all experience arises.
And, paradoxically, it is through the awakening of this transcendence beyond the world that you become a great force of blessing within the world, because it is through the openness of your transcendence that genuine love can flow.
Can you remember your original intention- to be awake?
King David is the symbol of Moshiakh- the awakening of all humanity out of the dream of separation. This dream is so powerful- it creates all the suffering we inflict upon ourselves and others.
His rightful heir is Solomon- the symbol of wisdom. We come into this world to awaken as that wisdom- to embody consciousness in form and thereby heal the world. We humans have become so lost in form, so caught within its web. The rogue son has taken over and usurped the throne.
But any moment, and that means this moment, is the potential to rouse David from his slumber and get the world back on track. Awaken!
It is told that in the late 1700s, when Reb Shneur Zalman was incarcerated in a Russian prison, a guard noticed the great presence of the rabbi and went to ask him a question:
“You are a holy man. There is a question that has been bothering me about the scriptures. When Adam was in the Garden of Eden and he ate from the forbidden fruit, it says that God asked him where he was. How is it possible that God didn’t already know where he was?”
Reb Shneur Zalman answered- “It’s like this. At every moment and at every time, God is asking you- where are you? Right now you are twenty-seven years old. Are you fulfilling the purpose of your life?”
At this point the guard almost fell over, because the rabbi had mentioned his actual age, and there was no way he could have known. At that moment, a deep knowing awakened within the guard and he devoted himself to love and service.
On this Shabbat Hayey Sarah, the Sabbath of Life, may we remember ever more deeply who we are really- the Presence and Life of Reality Itself. May that Presence be free from the dream of all fear and negativity, and may our words and deeds become sources of blessing on this earth, today.
Parshat Vayeira- The Heat is On!
A friend of mine once said to me, “I don’t understand this ‘present moment’ stuff. What if the present moment is terrible? Why would I want to ‘be in the moment’ when the moment is so painful and awful?”
This week’s reading begins with Abraham sitting in his tent on a scorching hot day. Suddenly, he is visited by a Divine revelation:
"Vayeira eilav Hashem b’eilonei Mamrei, v’hu yosheiv petakh ha’ohel k’khom hayom-
“The Divine appeared to him (Avraham) in the plains of Mamrei, while he was sitting at the opening of his tent in the heat of the day.”
Let’s look at the Hebrew in this opening line carefully. The usual translation says that the Divine appeared to him “in the heat of the day.”
But, the Hebrew doesn’t actually say that.
“In the heat of the day” would normally be “B’khom hayom.”
The Hebrew says- “K’khom hayom”- AS the heat of the day.
Read this way, the verse says that the Divine is appearing to him as the discomfort of the heat! Furthermore, the word “Hayom” which means “the day” can also simply mean “today”- that is, this moment.
In other words, yes- the present moment sometimes appears as discomfort, as ugliness, as pain. But the crucial thing to remember is: everything that arises in your experience is a gateway to the Divine, if you open to it.
As it says,
“…v’hu yosheiv petakh ha’ohel-
“… and he was sitting at opening of the tent…”
The “tent” is your identity- your individual self. The “opening” is the willingness to open to Reality as it presents itself, even when it appears as “heat”- as discomfort. In that willingness, in that openness, is the appearance of the Divine.
Because in the open space of simple Presence with what is, there's no big distinction between the “outside” and the “inside”- between the inner world of thought and feeling, on one hand, and the outer world you take in through your senses, on the other. Everything that happens in your experience- outside as well as inside- is part of one experience. And your one experience is nothing but your one consciousness, constantly taking on different forms.
When you really see this, when you realize that all of your experiences are always only One Experience, and that your One Experience is ultimately made out you- meaning, made out of your consciousness- there can be a relaxing of resistance, a relaxing of the “me” that’s separate, that’s judges, that wants. After all, why would you resist yourself? That just creates inner tension, unnecessary suffering.
Then you can see- there is simply this Reality, everpresent- the Divine appearing as the form of this moment, suffering and ugliness and all.
The famous brothers and Hassidic rebbes- Zusya and Elimelech- were the sons of a village innkeeper who was unusually hospitable.
One day a band of beggars came to the doorstep of his inn. He and his wife received them warmly, served them food and drink, and prepared them a place to sleep. Seeing that their guests wanted to bathe, they went down to the bathhouse and heated water for them.
Among the beggars was a pauper whose entire body was covered with repulsive sores, and none of the other vagrants was willing to help him wash. The innkeeper’s wife had compassion and helped him, whereupon he turned to her and said: “In return for your kindness, let me bestow upon you my blessing- that you bear sons like me.”
Dismay came over her- sons like him?
But within seconds, this man and all his companions along with their wagon vanished before her very eyes. Years later, when her sons grew up, it then dawned on her- she had been put through a test, in order to bestow upon her the gift of such saintly children.
When Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi once recounted this story, one of his listeners asked him: “Who was that leper?”
But the rebbe gave not a word of reply.
There are no words to describe this Reality that is appearing, just now. Sometimes ugly, sometimes repulsive, it is the gateway to the sacred- to the most beautiful essence that you are. Even if ugliness arises as your own thoughts, as your own feelings- when you welcome them, the welcoming Presence is Itself beautiful, and in Its Light, everything has a sacred purpose.
So on this Shabbat Vayeira, the Sabbath of Appearance, may we embody the supreme art of hospitality- not only external hospitality, but also the inner kind- welcoming the ugliness that arises, until it too vanishes and reveals its secret blessing...
While acknowledging that these Torah of Awakening posts are intended for everyone, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, I also acknowledge that many folks who read these posts are feeling devastated and even terrified in the wake of the election results. If you are one of those folks, this post is for you.
At the same time, this post is also for everyone, as devastation and fear do not belong solely to any particular situation, but are inherent features of the human experience.
And so, I write today not to offer any political or historical perspectives (there are plenty of those coming out by the second), but to respond to the question that may arise as you seek to reconcile our current situation with your spiritual path:
“How do I deal with this situation from a “spiritual awakening” perspective, from a path of Presence? Should I simply trust the how the universe/God is unfolding? Should I replace the negative story I have about it with a positive one?
To respond, I want to first bring to mind the nature of what we’re dealing with.
Our political reality is not like a snow storm or a sunrise. It doesn’t simply happen in the world as a natural unfolding of the universe. It is purely, one hundred percent a projection of the human mind- of your mind, of my mind, of all humans who create it by participating in it.
“President” is a creation of the mind. “Elections” are creations of the mind. All political views are creations of the mind. They are stories, narratives, fictions.
That’s not to say that they don’t have very real and objective consequences, but only to point out that they are completely, one hundred percent externalizations of thought, projections of our “inner worlds.”
Which just goes to show you how incredibly powerful our inner worlds are- that so much of our human reality is made up of the externalization of our mental stories.
And, while we have no absolute power to control what happens in the external world, there is one power we do have, and that’s the power to choose how we project our inner world- that is, the power to choose the quality of our words and actions.
While that might seem like a relatively tiny power, it’s the only power we truly have. And since our whole civilization ultimately rests on the projections of everyone’s inner worlds, your power is real. Every action, every word, every gesture is an act of power- of projecting your inner world onto the outer world.
Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high…”
And so, the next question then arises- How can you “go high” when you’re filled with so much negative emotion? In other words, how can you choose to project something positive, when your inner world is totally negative?
To answer, it’s good to first understand where these emotions come from, and why this situation is so difficult in particular. It’s not like natural disasters such as like earthquakes or floods. That’s because it’s not just the external world that’s being threatened; it’s also your inner world that is threatened.
And why is that so devastating?
Because our inner worlds of thought and feeling tend to make up our identity; it’s who we feel that we are.
When we lose what we value and believe in, our very sense of self is threatened. And the natural reaction to the “self” being threatened is intense grief, fear, anger, nastiness, and for some, even violence. Which brings us to the other name for the self-sense that’s derived from thoughts and feelings: Ego.
When you come right down to it, ego is the reason why we have such polarization in our species in the first place. It’s the reason that extremely intelligent people can have such opposing points of view, with almost no willingness to see the view of the other. That’s because the ego-self is derived from your thoughts and feelings; from your point of view. When your point of view is threatened, your ego is threatened. And the ego is like any natural creature- it wants to live, and it will fight for its life.
So beyond all politics, beyond all external worldly events that come and go in history, whether positive or negative, whether loving or hateful, is this crucial truth: Humanity cannot be fixed until the problem of ego is fixed.
And, the only ego problem you can fix, ultimately, is your own.
How do you fix it?
First of all, know that there is a vast dimension of your own being that is far beyond ego, that you are infinitely more than ego, even though ego can seem so powerful. That inner vastness is the source of your authenticity, of true creativity, of genuine love, joy, connection and true power. Connect with that, and you take the first step (again and again) to bringing true healing, wisdom and love into the world.
Second, know that your inner vastness is not something you have to search or reach for; it’s already present as your own awareness, as the consciousness that is reading these words, in this moment.
Which brings us to the third and most important part:
You can awaken the vast dimension of your own awareness right now, simply by opening to and embracing everything that arises within your field of experience.
You feel fear, anger, or devastation? Those feelings themselves are the doorway beyond ego, if you open to them.
By “open to them” I mean: intentionally let them be there. They are painful- let them burn. They are burning away ego, if you don't get taken over by them and instead simply allow them to be.
Wholeheartedly abandon the idea that you can control anything, except for your relationship to this moment. You actually can control your relationship to this moment, simply by opening to what is. And, paradoxically, “opening to what is” means giving up all control.
As it says in the Talmud (Berachot 33b), “Everything is in the hands of heaven except the awe of heaven…”
Meaning: “Heaven” is the open space of this moment, and we cannot control what arises. Rather, everything is “in the hands of heaven”- things happen as they happen, arising out of the emptiness of this moment.
And yet, “awe of heaven” is in your hands.
Meaning: Respect Reality as it is. Open to it, allow this moment to be as it is. When you do, there’s an amazing discovery to be made: You are not your ego. In fact, you are not something other than the “heaven.” You are the space of this moment. You are the awareness within which everything arises.
And from that realization, from that Makom of openness, you don’t have to try to invent some positive story to dump on top of your negative story. When you see story for what it is, you become free from it. You are the Space from which all stories arise, and so you are no longer caught by any stories.
And from that Space that is far beyond your ego, do the only thing you can do, the thing that only you can do- let your actions and words to “go high.” Let them arise spontaneously from that Space of freedom, in this moment.
May your next act be one of love, peace and blessing- amein v’amein.
The Ark- Parshat Noakh
The world is a river; you cannot hold a river.
The world is a wave, but we see it as particles.
Forever the mind is building arks to float upon the churning ocean of Truth,
Holding frames of changing being above the morph so as to discern a narrative-
The arks- words!
The tzaddik’s naming of beings saves them from dissolution in God;
The tzaddik gives full attention to the being beheld, while all else drowns (for now) in the One.
Two by two- one being beholds another-
But when the ark is beached on the dry wasteland of things and agendas, the tzaddik cannot function!
S/he must plant a vineyard in the midst of the wreckage and take refuge in the wine of ecstasy-
That is, withdrawal from time into the Place where prayer erupts.
To others s/he looks naked and dysfunctional- useless.
“Let’s cover up this embarrassment!”
People are more comfortable with the building of great towers so they can say,
“Look what we have done!”
Not content with the warmth (Ham) of life, they must make a name (Shem) for themselves, claiming authorship of beauty (Yafet).
Have you forgotten how to let go?
To behold the one who stands before you and let all else drown in the One?
Don’t grasp for the spotlight, you will find everyone speaking gibberish.
But relax and take a walk with God~
God will show you how to construct your words, and illuminate them from above…
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